Green, greening, greener: launching German-speaking #GreeningDH at the DHd 2022 annual conference
(Dieser Blogpost wurde auf Englisch verfasst, um die Vernetzung mit anderen DH-Initiativen weltweit zu fördern, die Forschungspraktiken sowie Epistemologie des Faches unter Berücksichtigung der Klimakrisen zu reflektieren bestrebt sind)
A fully online conference with minimalist goodie bags sent home to the 1000 participants: while the DHd conference veterans (and probably the academically younger participants too) would certainly have preferred to meet in person, the DHd 2022 annual conference achieved the ambitious goal to keep its environmental footprint at an all-time low and still offer warmth, welcome and high-quality research to an exceptional number of people. New standards in conferencing have been set, not only due to the pandemic, but also because awareness for the impact of research activities – including conference travels – on the planet has been growing to a point that it can hardly be ignored.
Balancing impacts (environmental, social, economic, psychological) of the different ways you can envision scholarly communication is what incited me to look into questions connected to research and teaching activities in the context of climate crises at large. I wanted hard numbers, I wanted to be able to tell my colleagues that a 2 hour videoconference is definitely a better option than taking a plane to travel 500 km. But I also want to be able to discuss the more complicated cases: how do you decide who, from your institute, should be the one to travel to a conference? How do you ensure a sustainable logistical infrastructure for online attendances? How do you assess advantages and disadvantages of an in-person meeting vs. videoconference and make the decision process transparent?
Obviously, these questions reflect strongly the pandemic and its consequences. Getting to know Alicia Peaker, James Baker, Jo Walton, Kaiama Glover and touch ground again with Alex Gil, Walter Scholger and Torsten Roeder in the summer of 2021 opened my eyes on the bigger picture for the Digital Humanities communities. This is what we strived to articulate in the Manifesto “Digital Humanities and the Climate Crisis”, which was conceived as a starting point both for practical and theoretical explorations. The Manifesto won the 2022 DH Award in the category “Best exploration of DH failure” and will be presented at the DH 2022 conference in Tokyo. But its actual performance is really to have opened doors for a series of initiatives, among which the creation of working groups within the DH community whose goal it is to figure out what the climate crisis means for our discipline: the Digital Humanities Climate Coalition, the French working group “Humanités Numériques et crise environnementale”, and the German DHd working group “Greening DH”, that was founded in January 2022.
Torsten Roeder and I initiated the German-speaking working group in order to bundle all possible forces in the German-speaking area. A few other researchers, students, tech staff and librarians joined the group from its onset, but the DHd annual conference in March 2022 was the first occasion to get a sense of the community needs, wishes and expectations in all things green. Many of those who attended the DHd 2022 meetings organized by the working group “Greening DH” did so out of curiosity: what exactly do you take into account when talking about the environmental footprint of DH activities? What, in all of my activities, has the worse impact, what entails the bulk of my footprint? How do you concretely measure the footprint of such activities as computing? While some of these “starter” questions call for clear answers (there exist tools for measuring the environmental footprint of research activities in general), some are not as easy to answer. Anything connected to a fine-grained calculation of the impact of digital activities, for instance, is bound to remain blurry to a certain extent (as I explained it in this blogpost). I was not really prepared for this balancing act between the obvious and the much less obvious, and left the meetings with the feeling that I gave rather unsatisfactory answers to these questions – I hope the people who asked them will come back to our meetings and engage in a more in-depth discussion (and get used to the “this we know, that we don’t really know” tone these discussions usually have).
Apart from them, several people were interested in more theoretical aspects at the intersection of digital and environmental humanities. The project presented by Manuel Burghardt, CoLiBis, is a good example of the type of focus that is at work in these efforts to rethink DH methods and questions in the realm of what the climate crises will require from us as a research community. While this type of projects is still nascent in Europe, there might be, on the other side of another ocean somewhere, other DHers striving to dynamize this area. I hope that contacts can be found and taken in order to foster this stray of research.
The German-speaking “Greening DH” working group also has a concrete goal, together with the English-speaking “Digital Humanities Climate Coalition”: we want to draft guidelines, or best practices, that will provide guidance in the areas in which it can be provided, and point to the grey zones where additional information is needed to make an informed decision. How can DH rely on methods of minimal computing? How to assess the damage of Large Language Models and which alternative workflows can still provide relevant results? How do I choose electronic equipment or software? This concerns also project management from the most basic to the most complex level: deciding on formats, storage strategies, means of communication. The whole ecosystem of DH research (and, for that matter, teaching too) can and should be reconsidered in terms of its environmental footprint. The “Greening DH” toolkit we want to provide to the DH community is aiming at providing as many answers as we already have and at uncovering aspects that need to further dive into.
We have drafted the raw structure and assigned writers to the first 6 chapters of the Greening DH toolkit. We will hold our seminal writing sprint on April 6th 2022 in the afternoon. If you are interested in contributing to this collective work, get in touch with the working group convenors. We look forward to integrating as many forces as possible, and to defining environmental standards of DH ethics, to make our discipline one that stays as much in harmony as possible with a livable world.
Anne Baillot ist mit Torsten Roeder Co-Convenor der AG Greening DH